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Archive for the ‘soup’ Category

Welcome to week 3 of my cooking techniques course. We’ve already covered knife skills and eggs– now it’s time for stocks and soups. I like soups so much that my friends and I are thinking about having a soupotluck.

We made six soups in class on Sunday. Six. Whew. That’s a lot of soup.

Luckily, I am now well armed for any soupotluck coming my way.

This is a really long post with a lot of information. So for those of you who just glance at the pictures and go straight for the recipe, there are a few main takeaways.

1) Don’t boil stock

2) Don’t stir stock

3) Stock is a great dumping ground

4) Season, season, season: salt and acid are your friends

And for those of you who want to use my blog instead of dragging yourselves out of bed at 8 am on six Sundays in a row, here’s the summary of what we learned.

First we started off with a discussion of stocks. Fond de volaille (chicken stock), fond brun (brown veal or beef stock), fish fumet (fish stock), and vegetable stock. Chef reminded us that stock is a great dumping ground for things you might normally throw out: chicken carcass, limp carrots and celery, dark green leek tops. When you find yourself with some of these extra, less than perfect ingredients, chop them up and throw them in the freezer. And then when you have a few hours when you’re doing other stuff around the house, throw them in a soup pot with water and let them simmer away.

Stock adds gelatin and taste to sauces. The gelatin comes from the collagen in bones and joints. Due to the gelatin, when the stock has cooled, it will be a bit  jiggly. Vegetable stock has no gelatin and no jiggly.

Chef shared with us a whole bunch of tips.

First off: defrosting ingredients for your stock. Vegetables – you can just throw them right into the stock. Meats you want to thaw as slowly as possible. The best method is to put the frozen meat in the fridge for about 2 days (especially for a big roast … not that you’d put a roast in a stock, but you get the idea). Next best is “slacking” – run the meat under a steady stream of cold water until the meat thaws. Finally, the quickest way you can safely thaw is to a “warm slacking’ – place the meat in warm water and then replace the water when it becomes cold. Keep doing this until the meat thaws – this can take as little as 20-30 minutes. It’s a no-go on countertop thawing or microwaving.

When you add water to bones, make sure the water is cold (helps dissolve albumin protein which keeps the stock clear). The water level should just barely cover the bones (and aromatics) so that the stock is richer (too much water – too dilute). Simmer the bones for about 10 minutes and some scum should rise to the top – skim it off.

Don’t stir the stock because this will move the scum around and will be harder to skim. Don’t boil the stock because it’ll also move the scum around. If you don’t get most of the scum, the broth will be cloudy. Got that? Don’t stir and don’t boil. Because, really, who likes scum?

After your first scum skimming, add the aromatics vegetables and bouquet garni. Mirepoix is the classic aromatics mix: 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery. But who needs to be classic? You can use leeks. Or zucchini. Or whatever you like. The smaller the bones you’re using, the quicker the stock will finish, and the smaller you’ll have to chop the veggies (more surface area means they cook more quickly). So for fish fumet, you’ll need a small brunoise.

Tie together thyme, bay leaves, and parsley stems into a bouquet garni. Want to be fancy? Wrap the boquet in a dark green leek leaf, and then tie it up. You can also use cheesecloth to make the bouquet easier to remove.

Don’t add salt when you’re making stock. You’ll be adding it to whatever you make with the stock.

You know that the stock is ready the bones start falling apart — it means that all of the collagen has broken down. This takes about 30 minutes for fish. About 3-5 hours for chicken. And a brown stock? A whopping 8 – 24 hours — just let it simmer (not boil!) overnight. Vegetable stock typically takes about an hour to make.

When the stock is done, strain it.  First strain out the big stuff through a colander. Do a second strain through a fine mesh anything – an expensive chinoise if you have one  (please ignore the racist French name) or cheese cloth.

Cool the stock down and then skim off the fat. Don’t put a bit pot right into the fridge – it’ll warm up everything else in the fridge. To cool it off, put it covered outside in the snow if it’s winter, or distribute across several smaller containers and bring it down to room temperature before putting it in the fridge.

Remember – once it has cooled, a good stock will be gelatinous.

We didn’t make our own stock due to time constraints, but we did use them as a basis for all of our soups.

Before we served our soups, we did a seasoning exercise with salt and acid. Except for a few situations, we didn’t add a drop of salt until we finished cooking the soups. We tasted the soups without any seasoning at all and then slowly added salt until the full flavors developed. A good rule of thumb is about 2-3 teaspoons per 2-4 quarts of soup. But the better rule of thumb is add salt until it tastes good.  We then added acid – either lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. The acid brings a bit of freshness to whatever you’re making, and also reduced the effects of salt. So, you may need to a bit more salt after the acid. Or, if you have added too much salt, acid can make your dish taste less salty.

Cream of potato soup with hazelnut pesto

This is a very rich soup. Very rich. I, who never like cream of anything soup, loved it. Just a little goes a long way. After cooking the potatoes, you’ll drain and puree them – make sure to reserve the liquid or you’ll be left with mashed potatoes – amazing mashed potatoes, but they won’t be soup. That pinch of nutmeg - Chef reminded us last week that nutmeg makes cream creamier and cheese cheesier.

We made hazelnut pesto since one of my classmates is allergic to pine nuts – I think this version is even better than the classic. And any leftovers can be thrown on pasta.

For the soup:

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 2 leeks

- 2 lbs potatoes (we used russet potatoes in class)

- 2 quarts cold vegetable (or chicken) stock

- 1 – 1 1/2 C heavy cream  (for a less rich soup, you can try half-and-half or light cream)

- Pinch of nutmeg

- Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste

For the pesto:

- a handful of skinned hazelnuts

- 1/2 – 2/3 C olive oil

- 2-3 cloves of garlic

- 2 C packed basil leaves, washed and dried

- ~1/2 t salt

- 1/3 C grated romano cheese

- 1/3 C grated parmesan cheese

Prep soup. Finely chop whites and light green leaves of the leeks. Soak them in cold water and agitate a bit — the dirt will fall to the bottom. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes..

Cook soup. Melt butter in a big saucepot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until very soft (the light green leaves will turn translucent). Add potatoes and stock and cook covered until the potatoes are very soft (taste them to check texture).

Puree soup. Drain the potatoes and leeks but reserve the liquid. Don’t forget – reserve the liquid. Push the potatoes through a sieve, food mill, or potato ricer. (Unfortunately, an immersion blender will just make the potatoes gummy.) This is a little bit of a pain.

Mix soup. Mix the potatoes with enough cream and reserved liquid to make a creamy soup.

Season and taste soup. Add a pinch of nutmeg and pepper (white pepper if you really want the soup to be perfectly white). Add salt about a teaspoon at a time, tasting with each addition. When it tastes good, add some lemon juice, a few drops at a time. Taste again for salt.

Prep pesto. While the potatoes are cooking, toast the hazelnuts. Hopefully they’re peeled, but if they’re not, put them in a paper bag when they’re still hot, close the top, and let them steam. A quick rub in a towel should do the trick for removing the skins.

Puree pesto. In a food processor, puree the hazelnut with 2 T olive oil until you get a smooth paste. Add the garlic and process again until smooth. Add basil and salt and keep processing. Then, very slowly alternate cheeses and olive oil a little at a time until  you get a very smooth puree. Add salt to taste.

Eat. Top soup with a nice spoonful of pesto.

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but first

Today was stocks and soups day in my cooking class. There will be much more on that later, but first, a quick post and recipe.

Last night was closet cleaning out time.

Actually, it’s always closet cleaning out time at my place. This time, the cleaning extended to the fridge and pantry. I used up 4 cans of black beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, a bunch of onions and garlic, and some labne from the fridge.

Voilà – soup.

Black bean soup with cumin labne

The inspiration for this soup came from Smitten Kitchen’s own black bean soup with toasted cumin crema. I ditched the peppers, used canned beans instead of dried, added tomatoes, and substituted labne for the crème fraîche. My soup is thinner and more  brown in color (due to the tomatoes).

- olive oil

- 2 onions

- 3T chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

- 1 T chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this was about a single chipotle pepper plus adobo sauce)

- 1 T (or more) cumin

- 1 C crushed canned tomatoes

- 4 15.5 oz cans black beans (I used Goya)

- 5-6 C water

- lime juice

- labne (thick middle eastern yogurt – similar to sour cream)

Prep. Chop onions and garlic. Finely chop chipotle. Drain beans and sprinkle with some baking soda (helps make them more digestible).

Cook. Saute onion in oil until brown, about 8-10 mins. Add garlic, chipotle (and all that adobo sauce), and spices. Cook over low-medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer about 15 minutes. Rinse the baking soda off the black beans, and dump them into the soup. After another 10 minutes, whizz with an immersion blender and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Top. Thin labne with some warm water and mix with cumin. Add a dollop of labne to the soup and sprinkle a little cumin on top.

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I failed my first test today.

Not the first one in my life, of course. Just the first one of my cooking techniques course.

Today was knife skills. After waking up at 8 am (on a Sunday!) and fortifying myself for the drive through the first inches of snow on the ground (in October!) with a strong cup of coffee and over easy egg on toast, I sat myself down on a little chair with a little arm desk attached. I felt like I was back in high school.

Sitting in these little chairs, we learned the anatomy of a knife from tang to tip. How to hold a chef’s knife. How to sharpen a knife. How to test the sharpness of a knife by slicing right through a piece of paper.

We learned knife etiquette. Keep knives sharp. Always cut away from yourself. Never hand a knife to another chef; place it on the table and let him pick it up himself. Walk with your knife pointed downward. “A falling knife has no handle; do not attempt to catch it.” Clean and dry your knives as quickly as possible. Never put your knives in a dishwasher. Keep knives sharp.

We chose our knives and made our way over to a large stainless steel table set with a pile of vegetables at each of a dozen stations. We wrapped an apron around our waists and tucked a towel in the ties. I positioned myself in front of the stove and salamander to keep warm. We set our cutting boards down on a cloth so they wouldn’t move, placed a dough scraper under the right side of the board.

We practiced holding our knives: choke up on the bolster, just in front of the handle. We practiced our “claw” hand – curling our left fingers under and our thumbs in to hold our vegetables without slicing off a finger.

And then we set to work. We cried our way through a fine chop of an onion. We minced garlic and turned it into a paste with the tip of our knives.

We made batonnets from potatoes – just a fancy name for cutting them into french fry shapes. Then we diced cubes of all sizes. We medium diced zucchini (1/2 inch all around). We seeded peppers and tomatoes and cut them into a small dice (1/4 inch). We julienned carrots and bruniosed – cut them into teeny tiny cubes (officially 1/8 inch). I quickly learned that uniformity will be my struggle.

Next we sliced. Carrots into rondelles (coins), half moons and quarter moons. Celery into diagonal/bias cuts. Fennel shaved as thin as possible (mandoline optional).

Herbs followed. A few quick chifonnades of parsley and we had a nice fine chop without bruithsing the leaves and losing the flavors onto the board. Tiny slices of chives – as thin as possible. Rosemary chopped super fine. Get the picture with herbs? Teeny teeny tiny.

We also suprêmed oranges. I ate mine.

Finally we got cooking. Vegetables into some olive oil with canned tomatoes. Pasta into a huge pot of boiling salted water, and then into the vegetables. Parsley, chives, and garlic paste into melted butter, then butter brushed onto a split baguette and tucked into the oven. Potatoes soaking in water dried off and dropped into hot oil. And then tossed with parmesan and rosemary.

And then we dined.

When I got home, I tested my knives. I held up in front of me a piece of paper between two fingers. I held my favorite knife above the edge of the  paper and slowly lowered it, waiting for the swift swoosh of a nice long cut. Instead, barely a crinkle. The paper buckled under the weight of the knife, crunched a bit, and remained intact. I honed the knife and tried again. Crunch. Second knife. Crunch. Third. Crunch. Fourth. Crunch.

Oy.

But after failure, success.

Using some of my new techniques and holding my (dull) knife correctly for once, I rough chopped many of the same ingredients from the morning into a stew for the week.

Moroccan beef and chickpea tagine.

I’m working on one pot meals. This is my first. And it’s good enough for company. Especially in front of a fireplace.

A tagine is a north African stew made in a dish called a tagine with a tight-fitting, pointy domed top. It is traditionally served over couscous. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my friend Sarah at FoodBridge (she actually made couscous from scratch!) and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and I used what I could find in my fridge. Butternut squash would be a great addition. When I made this, I made two versions – one with meat and one veggie. For the veggie version, I added extra chickpeas and made the stew in pretty much the exact same way. My friend Ilana told me that her Moroccan friends use really large chunks – whole carrots, potatoes and zucchini cut in half – and each person cuts off a few pieces of what they want. I’m going to try that next time.

If  you don’t want to use canned chick peas, you’ll need prepare dried chickpeas a day in advance. Sort through the dried chickpeas to remove any black ones or little stones. Soak them in at least three times the amount of water overnight (~10-12 hours) with a large pinch of baking soda. Rinse them off the next day and pour into at least double the amount of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cover for about 1.5  hours until tender but not falling apart. Drain and add to stew.

- 2-3 pounds of stew meat

- olive oil

- spices to taste (I like a lot of spice, and have provided approximate measurements):

- cumin (1-2 T)

- cinnamon (1/2 – 1 T)

- nutmeg (pinch)

- dried coriander (1/2 – 1T)

- turmeric (1/4 t)

- ginger powder (1/2 t)

- several saffron strands seeped 5 minutes in hot water)

- 8-10 C water

- 1 large onion

- 3-4 large carrots (or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots)

- 3-4  celery stalks

- 3-4 thin-skinned potatoes

- 2 large zucchini

- 3-4 C chickpeas

- salt and pepper

Braise. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy pan (I used a large 6 3/4 quart cocotte) until it glistens. Cut meat into smaller pieces (3/4 to 1-inch cubes) and brown with half the spices. Add the water and bring to a boil. Scrape up the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the meat starts to get tender.

Prep the vegetables. Rough chop onions into large pieces. Cut baby carrots in half or peel and cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the potatoes and dice into 1-inch cubes. Cut zucchini into large half moons.

Simmer. When meat is tender, add harder vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes – and the rest of the spices, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for another 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add chickpeas in the last 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour meat, vegetables, and broth over couscous (or Israeli couscous, sometimes called p’titim in Hebrew or acini de pepe in Italian)

-

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foolproof

Contrary to what you may believe, I do, every once in a while, make simple dinners and desserts. More often than you’d think, in fact. I’ve been trying my hand at a few classics. I mean, classics are classic for a reason. They’re tried and true. Reliable. Foolproof. So it’s high time I shared with you a few classic, good old standbys that I can throw together after a long day of work and know that they’ll be good. This way, you can throw them together too.

This look into classic dishes was inspired by a slow food campaign at my company. Our café sold, for $10 (!!!), all the ingredients (except for a chicken) necessary for a hearty,  healthy dinner for a family. They even provided recipes – chicken, salad, greens and pasta, and fresh fruit for dessert. This was too good to pass up. So I lugged home my bag of groceries and laminated recipe card.

I made the chicken with just a few modifications, using chicken cutlets instead of a whole chicken and a nice addition of lemon juice. I used chard to make a minestrone. And voilà - a few dinners and lunches for the week.

These recipes aren’t rocket science, but they’re great ones to have in your repertoire. They pretty much use ingredients that are probably already in your fridge and pantry. The most difficult step is rough chopping some vegetables. And then you leave the dish to cook while you write a blog post. You just need to check on the chicken or soup every once in a while. C’est tout. That’s all there is, folks.

Chicken and root vegetables

This chicken takes about 45 minutes to an hour, from start to finish. Most of the time, the chicken is just baking in the oven and you need to check it every 10-15 minutes to mix and baste.

- 1+ pound of boneless skinless chicken breast (cutlets) – or you could use chicken parts, or boneless thighs

- 3 large carrots

- 3 large parsnips

- 4-5 celery stalks

- 1 onion

- several cloves of garlic

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

- olive oil

- 1/4 C lemon juice (to taste)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rough chop all the vegetables – try to get them approximately the same size (except the garlic of course).

Fill. Scatter the vegetables in a pan large enough to fit them more or less in a single layer. Douse with olive oil (maybe 2T) and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Season the chicken with salt and pepper too. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and douse the chicken with a little more olive oil (another 1-2 T) – you can omit this if you are using chicken with skin. Pour in the lemon juice.

Bake. Bake the chicken for about 45 minutes, stirring and basting every 10-15 minutes. Add water or more lemon juice if you notice that there aren’t many juices and the corners of your pan are starting to burn. The chicken is officially ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. I generally take mine out at 155ºF, but I’m wild and crazy. If the vegetables don’t cook as fast as the chicken, take the chicken out when it is ready and let the vegetables finish baking. Add the chicken back to the pan to warm back up for 5 minutes.

Eat. Take it out. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then serve it straight from the pan. You can even eat it out of the pan if no one is looking.

 

Chard minestrone

I found this recipe in the New York Times earlier this year. You can freeze the soup before you add the chickpeas and chard. When you want to eat, just re-heat and add in chickpeas and chard for about 10 minutes.

- olive oil

- 6 carrots

- 1 onion

- 1 T chopped garlic (yup, I use the stuff in the jar)

- several handfuls of chard – separate stems from leaves

- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

- 7 C water

- 1 t dry thyme

- 2 bay leaves

- 1 parmesan rind

- 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans

- 1 C pasta

- extra parmesan

Prep. Rough chop the carrots and onions - try to get them approximately the same size chunks. Wash the chard really well. Remove the stems from the chard and rough chop as you would celery. Make a few lengthwise cuts in the chard leaves and then cut them widthwise into thin strips (“chiffonade” if you want to be all fancy about it).

Simmer. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot. Add all the vegetables except for the chard leaves. Saute until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, water, thyme, bay leaves, and parm. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful not to set the heat too high because the soup will  bubble over. Believe me – I know.

Store (optional). If you’re going to eat the soup at a later time, you can freeze or refrigerate the soup at this point. When you want to serve, proceed with the rest of the steps.

Simmer again. Rinse the chickpeas and add along with the chard leaves. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the chickpeas heat through and the chard wilts but still keeps its color.

Boil. Don’t boil the soup! Boil the pasta as directed, to just shy of al dente. Spoon into the soup right before serving (otherwise it will absorb the hot soup liquid and get overcooked and mushy).

Eat. Carefully. Let the soup cool off a bit before eating. I managed to burn my lip – and I was in pretty bad shape. Sprinkle with extra parm if you want.

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postcard

Whenever I travel, my sister asks for a postcard. I always buy a few. I usually write at least one. Sometimes I even get a stamp. Rarely does a card hit a foreign mailbox. Almost always, the cards are hand-delivered. And while one of the postcards has already been signed, stamped, sent, and received, until the others arrive, this post(card) will have to do.

Last month, my friend Sarah and I crisscrossed the Portugal-Spain border. The day I stumbled into Lisbon, still recovering from my red-eye and transfer in Munich, Sarah welcomed me with a box of pastéis de nata. Our time in Portugal revolved around these incredible custard tarts in a caramelized crust. Sarah wanted to sample pastéis de nata from every corner bakery and pasteleria we passed, but once I tried the original from Pastéis de Belém, I couldn’t go back to mere copies. I loved the ones in Belém so much that on our last day in Lisbon, we took a €15 taxi for one final taste. And we did take in a few sights, including ducks, peacocks, and a couple of Portuguese good luck symbols in a little park near our hotel.

If Lisbon was all about the sweet, then Seville was all about the savory and the sensual. (Ahem … tapas and flamenco.)

We started our time in Seville with a tapas tour. Best. Idea. Ever. What better re-introduction to a city I hadn’t visited since college than a four hour (tapas) bar crawl with a virtual local (Shawn) who can find food to satisfy any taste? I like fish and vegetables, Sarah wanted to try everything. And Shawn navigated our preferences as easily as she navigated around the Sunday after-churchgoers vying for space up against the bar under dozens of jamón hanging from the ceiling like the pots and pans that adorn my own kitchen. She also armed us for our own gourmand adventures over the next few days with lists of restaurant recommendations and real-time tweets about where to go and when to show up to guarantee a table early or to catch the kitchen before it closed.

Sarah’s done a great job of cataloging her favorite stops. Just like I can’t stop thinking about the best pastéis de nata in Belém, I keep replaying in my mind our meal at La Azotea until my mouth waters (as cliché as that sounds). After several days of largely fried foods, I was craving more vegetables than salmorejo could offer (more on that cousin of gazpacho in just a bit). La Azotea delivered.

We were greeted and seated just before 1:00 at one of only six tables. Just in time, too, because by 1:15, all six of those tables were filled and the waiters could barely squeeze past the lunching crowd crowding the bar.  Lucky for us, owner Juan helped us choose lunch and wine and dessert. Course after course,we pulled out our cameras and peppered Juan with questions.

When I asked for a recommendation on a good local wine store, Juan slipped out the front door with us, crossed the street and unlocked the door to Vinos y Más. Only open in the evening, the restaurant’s wine bar is filled with some of Spain’s best goodies, from local wines and olive oils lining two walls to cheeses and meats behind a glass case. Wine barrels scattered in the small space serve as high-top tables. I leaned against one as Juan helped me pick out several wines to bring home (to be carried back, as usual, in my suitcase).

When we finally followed the scent of orange blossoms  back to Santa Cruz, it was nearly 5:00 pm.

After days of stuffing ourselves with tapas and walking from monument to cathedral to clothing store, we dedicated our nights to flamenco. We saw one,  sometimes two shows a night: in tablaos like my favorite El Arenal and the more commercial Los Gallos; at Museo del Baille Flamenco – the flamenco museum where I also took a flamenco dance class (!!); at La Carbonería (Levíes, 18), a hidden-from-the-street almost subterranean bar with a nightly flamenc0 gathering at 11:00 pm. Clearly we should have hit La Carbonería before our last night when we had to catch a midnight bus back to Lisbon.

Flamenco is all about the interplay between the dance, the music, and the song. Assuming that I would mainly watch the dancer, I found myself again and again drawn to the guitarist’s fingers strumming, plucking, tapping the strings and reflected in the dancer’s expression and fanning hands.

My dance training always emphasized that even the most difficult step should appear light and effortless. In flamenco, emotion is at the fore and effort-full movement follows. They literally dance from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers. The result is passion. It’s not always pretty, but it’s very very real. (Can you tell I’m planning to take some more classes?)


Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about that salmorejo  recipe I promised. Every day (sometimes twice a day) I ate this tomato-only, slightly thicker with the addition of more day-old bread, riff on gazpacho. Or maybe gazpacho is a riff on salmorejo. Luckily, I love them both.

Salmorejo



Salmorejo is a creamy chilled tomato soup thickened with bread. It is traditionally served with a sprinkle of diced egg and ham.

Gather.

- 8-12 ripe tomatoes

- 2 garlic cloves

- 1/4 C sherry vinegar (can substitute wine vinegar)

- sea salt to taste (I used ~2 t)

- 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- 2/3 day old baguette (~200 gm) — in a pinch, I’ve used pita!

- Fruity olive oil (Spanish arbequina is perfect for salmorejo – if you can’t get it in Spain, Unió is my favorite and available online and at Whole Foods)

- 2 eggs

Purée. Core and roughly chop the tomatoes. You can peel them for a smoother consistency, but I haven’t found that it makes an appreciable difference. Throw them in blender with the garlic and purée. A lot. The mix will be a light red. Add vinegar, salt, and regular olive oil. Keep puréeing until smooth and orange. This can take a few minutes. You might need to do it in 2 batches.

Soak. Tear up the bread and drop into the blender with the tomato mixture. Let soak for about 15 minutes until soggy.

Boil. Hard boil the eggs. Cool.

Purée again. Once the bread is good and soggy, purée until smooth and even lighter orange.

Garnish. Drizzle with a special fruity olive oil and sprinkle with chopped egg (and ham if you want).



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get the meal started

A few weeks ago, I made my first shabbat dinner in months. Many, many months. I  fretted about the burnt chicken, the apple-pear galette that cracked, the salad poorly dressed. But the one thing I could rely on was the mushroom soup. It’s the absolute essence of mushroom. And the recipe is little more than sautéeing several handfuls of sliced mushrooms with shallots, throwing together a roux to thicken things up a bit, and adding broth and sherry. Then a quick buzz with an immersion blender and voilà — creamy thick mushroom soup. Garnish with a few chives and we’re ready to get the meal started.

 

Mushroom Soup

Makes a lot, but our party of 5 finished the entire pot. Probably should serve up to 8.

I adapted this from two wild mushroom soups – one from Levana Kirschbaum and one from Carole Sobell. I left out Levana’s soy milk, but added her sherry and used flour instead of Sobell’s cornstarch. I kept her thyme as well, but dropped the saffron. I kept Sobell’s simplicity and her chives turned the soup from good to spectacular with just a hint of bite and sharpness.

- 2 cloves garlic

- 6 shallots

- 3 T margarine

- 2.5 lbs assorted mushrooms (I used a mix of white button and cremini) – about 4-5 cups

- several branches of thyme

- 1/3 C flour

- 5 C vegetable (or chicken) broth

- 1 C dry sherry (I used Tio Pepe Zerez Palomino Fino) or vermouth

- chives

Prep. There’s a lot of chopping going on here. Finely hop the garlic and shallots fine. Clean and slice the mushrooms any which way you want.

Sauté. Melt the margarine in a big soup pot. Sauté the garlic and shallots over low heat until translucent (try not to let them color). Add the mushrooms and thyme and continue to sauté for another 8-10 minutes or so. Add the flour to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes, mixing to make sure there are no lumps. Add broth and sherry and simmer for ~15 minutes. Remove the thyme branches, which by now should be bare of leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Blend. Whip the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You can also pass the soup through a sieve, but I didn’t bother.

Serve. Ladle into bowls and snip a few chives over top.

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Last Monday was Labor Day (well, you probably knew that). It was also farmers’ market day in my neighborhood. And since I didn’t have to go to work, I spent a good hour wandering around fruit, vegetable, and bakery stands rather than rushing in 15 minutes before they close on the way home from work. The weather was glorious and I lingered at each vendor, tasting here and there, sniffing and thumping, making the perfect choices. Since I was having a friend over for dinner, I bought an abundance of summer produce – heirloom tomatoes, plums, zucchini, and eight cucumbers. Eight? Yes, I had an idea.

Last year at another nearby farmers’ market, a local chef, Chris Parsons, was sharing tastes of a recipe from his restaurant, Catch. I took a  few spoonfuls of the smooth light green concoction and immediately knew that I had found the perfect recipe to take advantage of the free Greek yogurt that Stonyfield Farms shared with me and my blog.  I was a quick convert to Greek yogurt and have never looked back. But back to that summer soup. I asked Chris for the recipe and he emailed me a few days later. But the weather turned cold, and warm soups beckoned.

And then all of a sudden, it was summer again. With work a little crazy and much weekend travel, my days of leisurely cooking have suffered. But I couldn’t let another summer pass without making that creamy cucumber soup that so enchanted me last year. Labor Day was the day to slave away in the kitchen with a cool breeze blowing through my open windows.  So I made a dinner of cucumber gazpacho followed by ceviche, and kept the oven off.


Cucumber Gazpacho

I made a few adjustments to Chris Parson’s recipe and have copied it verbatim at the end of this post. The soup is very simple, but the yellow curry topping gives an extra kick. And I like a little kick. I used nonfat yogurt instead of whole milk yogurt, and then added some full-fat labne to the garnish to thicken it up.

Soup

- 8 cucumbers

- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- 1/4 C red wine vinegar vinegar

- 1.5 Torn day old bread

- 1 C Greek nonfat yogurt

- Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Prep. Peel half the cucumbers. Split all and removed seeds. Roughly chop.

Mix. Toss the cucumbers, oil, vinegar, bread, and yogurt into a big ziplock bag (none of my bowls could fit all the ingredients with enough room to mix). Shake and allow the liquid to soak into the bread for ~10 minutes.

Blend. Throw the mix into a blender and liquefy in two batches. Add salt and pepper to taste. I didn’t bother to strain the soup because I liked the flecks of green (and I couldn’t find my strainer).

Chill. The soup is a little bit thinner than the one I tried because I used nonfat yogurt. Once you chill it for a few hours, it thickens up a bit and also gives the flavors some time to develop. (I found the soup better the next day).

Garnish

- 1/2 C nonfat Greek yogurt

- 1/2 C 1% milk

- 1/4 C labne

- 1 t yellow curry powder

- 1 t ground cumin

- kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients. Refrigerate.

Serve soup in bowls with a swirl of yellow garnish across the top.

***

CUCUMBER GAZPACHO
Chris Parsons, Catch

8 each Cucumber, 4 of them peeled, Split and seed all. Rough chop.
1/4 C Evoo
1/4 C Sherry Vinegar
1 C Torn day old bread
1 C Greek Whole Milk Yogurt
Kosher Salt and White Pepper to Taste

Toss in a bowl like a salad, blend in blender and strain. Adjust seasoning.

Greek yogurt Bubbles
1/2 C Greek Yogurt
1/2 C Whole Milk
1 t Yellow Curry Powder
1 t Toasted Ground Cumin
Kosher Salt and White Pepper to Taste

Wisk together. Buzz w/ hand blender to froth.

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last all week

With a rainy Sunday and a long week of work ahead, today was a day for cooking. In an effort to break my eating out every lunch habit, I set to work on a hearty last all week soup. The recipe is  simple, hearty, and plentiful. And that’s it. Happy almost Monday, everyone!

Red Lentil Soup

This soup reminds me of one that I had when I was in Cairo a few months ago. I based it on one I found in the NYT and then I upped the Middle Eastern factor with a more than liberal sprinkling of cumin and the addition of sumac which adds a sour note. The lemon juice at the end adds extra freshness.

Serves 6-8.

-3-4 T olive oil

- 2 onions, chopped

- 4 cloves garlic, chopped

- 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

- 1 heaping T cumin

- a few pinches cayenne pepper

- 1 heaping t sumac

- 6-7 C vegetable broth

- 1.5 C red lentils

- 1 C brown lentils (not French/de Puy lentils)

- salt and pepper to taste

- lemon juice

Heat olive oil and saute onion and garlic about 4-5 minutes until soft.  Add tomato paste, cumin, cayenne, and sumac, sauteing for another 5 minutes. Add broth and lentils and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until lentils soften. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a few splashes of lemon.

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the first snow

Snow always makes me feel like a little kid. Especially the first big snowstorm of each year. Memories of waking up to see the window sill coated white. Lying in bed, awaiting that early morning call from the phone chain letting my parents know that school was canceled. Sledding with friends in the park that was just next to my house. And of course, hot cocoa when we returned home, noses and hands chapped despite gloves and scarves. Then ready to head out for more.

This year’s first snowfall was a bit of a letdown. Less than an inch but still sticking to the grass and sufficiently cold to cause traffic issues on black ice. Nonetheless, I slept in, bundled up in blankets and quilts, and had a nice indoor Sunday. And I realized that I could fight it no longer — soup season was officially here.

So, my inaugural soup this Winter (oh, even writing the word seems like an admission of the season despite a couple more weeks before the calendar agrees) is a spicy butternut squash one. No sweet squash here — I always prefer main course types to be savory. And this one has a kick of spice that hits you nicely, keeping your cheeks and tongue warm long after the soup has reached your belly.

Here’s to soup season and many cozy nights.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from Simple to Spectacular by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman. What I love about the cookbook is that it presents a limited number of dishes, each with five variations ranging in difficulty as the title suggests. This particular recipe is second in the butternut squash soup repertoire. It calls for roasting the squash twice – once on the stovetop and once in the oven. When pressed for time, I have skipped the stovetop roasting with only a small drop in the richness of squash flavor. And don’t forget to roast the seeds — they taste a little bit like popcorn.

- 2 T extra virgin olive oil

- 2-3 cloves minced garlic

- 2 medium or 3 small butternut squash (original recipe calls for 2 lb of squash, but I never pay attention to weight)

- 1/2 – 1 t red pepper flakes (to taste)

- 1 t thyme

-  4 C broth (vegetable, chicken, etc)

- Parmesan (optional)

- salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Prepare the squash. Peel, seed, and cut the squash into 1-inch chunks. I would really encourage you to wash the seeds off and roast them.

Pan-roast. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large skillet that will fit at least 6C of liquid — I have often done this directly in a large ovenproof pot. Add garlic, squash, red pepper flakes, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the squash, stirring every few minutes until squash starts to brown. This takes 10-15 minutes.

Oven-roast. Put the skillet in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, checking and shaking 2-3 times.

Back to the stove-top. Take the skillet out and put it back on the stove-top over medium  heat. Add the stock. Cook another 15-20 minutes until the squash is very tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If it is too thick, add some water.

Serve with some grated Parmesan or roasted squash seeds.

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soupe à l’oignon

The East coast seems to have been hit by a fair amount of rain over the past few days. I am accustomed to the summer thunderstorms that we often get in my hometown of DC — that crash-and-tumble excitement, the flashes of light thatbrighten the sky, a few torrential downpours that reveal a rainbow and hidden sun. Less so the Eeyore-inspired drizzle gray of Cantabrigia both new and old that has visited us here for the past few days. Combine that with a pulled muscle in my neck from dance class on Sunday and I need some comfort food.

Cookies? Nah…I want dinner. Mac and cheese? Maybe, but I had bucatini 2 nights ago and I don’t generally eat much pasta. My fridge is unusually bare after having made two big meals over the past few weeks, so I needed to scrounge around. I had just barely enough onions to throw together an onion soup, a meal in a bowl with the rich taste of caramelized onions, warm broth, toasted bread (or stale baguette, which I always seem to have around), and strings of melted cheese. When I was younger, this used to be my favorite dish to order in a restaurant, and the fancy presentation with cheese dripping off the side of a piping hot crock always impressed me. The childhood memory and thoughts of a steaming meal are a perfect recipe for uber-comfort on a weary dreary evening.

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Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée (ou pas)

This is such an easy soup to make with ingredients that you probably have lying around your kitchen. Onions. Butter. Spices. Leftover dry white wine or Vermouth. Boxed or dried vegetable (or chicken or beef) stock. The homey richness comes from giving the onions enough time to caramelize. I do not use beef stock and still my soup comes out a deep dark brown with an earthy flavor.

Makes ~ 4-6 servings, depending on size of your bowls. I made 4 bowls that turned into 3 full meals (I was really ravenous that first night).

I’ve written this recipe the way that it came together — my apologies for not writing it in “standard recipe format” with a list of ingredients followed  by directions, but this was my thought process as I was throwing this easy soup together and I wanted to preserve the feeling. I’ve highlighted quantities to make your lives a little easier.

Melt 1/4 C butter in a medium or large soup pot.

Slice 3 yellow onions, 1 red onion, 1 shallot (or whatever mild onions you have around the house) into thin half moons. Light a candle nearby to reduce crying.

onions and shallot

every single onion and shallot I had in my kitchen

Caramelize onions in butter over medium heat with 3 generous pinches salt, stirring  every 5-10 minute. This took me about 30-45 minutes. If you burn the onions, it’s not too big of a deal. Just turn the heat down a bit and keep stirring. You want the onions to turn a really dark brown but not to turn to mush. The red onion retained a bit of its purplish color.

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

Deglaze with ~1/2 C dry white wine – I used an open Pinot Grigio  that I had in my fridge (this was probably not the driest, but it worked pretty well…and I took a few sips while cooking) – and increase heat until most of the liquid evaporates (can also use vermouth). Make sure to scrape up all the good onion bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Add herbs: 1/2 t savory, 1-2 T thyme crumbled through your fingers

Add 4 C broth: vegetable or fake (or real) chicken/beef broth. I am embarrassed to admit that I used some of that powdered parve broth substitute because that’s all I had around. Yup, this stuff is little more than salt and MSG. But the soup still turned out great.

Add 3 bay leaves.

Bring to  boil, then simmer ~30 minutes.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

This makes ~ 5 cups of soup which is great plain or you can serve it gratinée: sprinkle with cut bread crumbs from stale baguette and  shredded cheese.The traditional cheese to use is gruyère but I have never found a good kosher one. I used some Raclette which I had left over from my zucchini tart, and it was a pretty good substitute. I also tried some Ermitage Royal Camembert that I had in my fridge, and this worked surprisingly well.

ready to compose

the broth is really dark

ready for the oven

ready to pop into the oven

 Pop in oven at 350°F for 10 minutes to melt cheese or put under broiler for 2-3 minutes (watch to avoid burning too much).

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baked at 350

broiled, 2-3 minutes

broiled, 2-3 minutes

NOTE: if you want to make this for a meat meal, use margarine (I’ve done it before, it does work out) and obviously omit the cheese. You can make the soup completely parve with veggie stock, or use a meat or chicken stock. You could try melting soy cheese, but I’ve never tried it so can’t speak about how this will taste. I really do like this soup without cheese almost as much as I like it gratinée

***

As I was making the soup, I put on one of my favorite albums – a South African band called Mafikizolo‘s first recording called “Sibongile” that I bought when I was in Cape Town a few years ago. (Apparently, this CD has been discontinued and I can’t find mine; I have it loaded on my ancient 20 gig iPod that is on its last legs. I’ve backed it up, but if it dies, my music may be gone forever…sad Zahavah.) Sibongile means “Thank you, God” in Zulu, the album was released after two of its members survived a bad car accident. I love that they wear retro ’50s outfits and can pull off hats with panache to go with their swingy bluesy vibe, have a broad range of styles (some of their more recent music — not what I’ve uploaded here — is more clubby with a techno beat), and take pride in their roots (from what little I know) with references to townships in their recent album title and their music.

Here are some of my favorite songs from this album (the first three songs) that I play to chase away the clouds.

“Gugo’thandayo” – check out the stylin’ hats

 

“Marabi” – very toe-tapping, cheerful with a nice relaxed rhythm

 

“Ndihambe Nawe” – a little bit more of a percussive beat

 

Here is a newer song that I just dicovered:

“Emlanjeni,” meet you at the river

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